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Sunday, 4 September 2011

PAS Deputy President, Mat Sabu, In the spotlight for wrong reason?

In the spotlight for wrong reason


Mohamad Sabu’s provocative style is being scrutinised in the hot glare of the spotlight now that he is deputy president of PAS, and he is making news. 

IT was not surprising that Mohamad Sabu’s latest “eruption” happened in Tasik Gelugor, the rural Malay outskirts on the mainland side of Penang.

The PAS deputy president, better known as Mat Sabu, has his sights set on Penang in the next general election and Tasik Gelugor is one of the parliamentary seats he is eyeing.

The plan is one of those poorly kept secrets among Penang Pakatan Rakyat leaders who hope that the fiery orator who shoots from the hip will lend his weight in the defence of Penang and help the Chinese-dominated coalition connect with the Malay ground.

Provocative style: Mat Sabu’s shoot-from-the-hip political style is changing the image of PAS. He is seen here in a wheelchair with his wife Norma Alwi (left) arriving for a dinner-cum-ceramah not long after the Bersih protest.
Mat Sabu and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng are what some call NBF, that is, New Best Friends. He is the DAP’s idea of what a PAS leader should be. He speaks their lingo, does not always go around dressed like some Middle-Eastern citizen and is clued in on current issues. His political style is not very different from that of DAP leaders; he is a street-fighter whose speeches are as witty as they are about banging and slamming his opponents.

In fact, he has often told friends, “I am a bazaari (an Iranian term for street-fighter).”

Mat Sabu is without a doubt the most controversial leader in PAS today. He has been making headline news since becoming the PAS No. 2 in June and he is trying to make his presence felt in Penang where he was born.

The trouble is that he not only shoots from the hip, he also sometimes shoots himself in the foot.
His remarks about the Bukit Kepong affairs, made in the heat of a ceramah and used as an analogy of how history is often written by the victors, were one such instance.

Historical interpretation is not against the law but the tone of his remarks, coming on the eve of National Day, was tasteless timing and simply politically incorrect. And it is up in YouTube where everyone can hear for themselves what he said.

There is no denying that he referred to the pro-Communist attackers in Bukit Kepong as “those fighting for independence” while the police personnel under attack were dismissed as belonging “to the British” and thus part of the colonialists. The fact is that home-grown policemen and soldiers fought alongside the British during the insurgency years and many died for their country.

Mat Sabu is not pro-Communist but his words came across as irreverent of the role of the security forces in the nation’s struggle for independence and against communism.

His Pakatan colleagues have defended him but he has been made mincemeat by Utusan Malaysia, which has devoted pages of coverage on the issue, and including reports of noted historian Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Khim and DAP chairman Karpal Singh chiding him for his version of Bukit Kepong.

This is barely two months after his spectacular clash with the police during the Bersih protests. His knee, which he injured during the protests, has yet to recover and these days, he sits down when speaking at ceramah. The circumstances surrounding his knee injury is still a matter of dispute and even the injury itself is surrounded by mystery.

Immediately after the Bersih demonstrations, he had appeared at a string of high-profile functions in a wheelchair, claiming that a police Land Rover had rammed into him as he was riding pillion on a motorcycle. He was hailed as an injured hero.

It made the police look really bad, but when the police released a video showing otherwise, Mat Sabu’s attacks ground to a stop and he told reporters pursuing the story that he would respond to them in court.

He has since stopped talking about the incident and is now confronted by queries over his billing of the medical treatment for the injury to the Penang Water Authority of which he is a board member.

“But the most shocking part about the Bukit Kepong issue was that he said he could not really remember what he said. To me, that was more terrible than if he had really said all those things. A leader cannot say something and then a few days later, tell us he cannot remember,” said restaurateur Juhaidi Yean Abdullah.

Juhaidi recalled hearing Mat Sabu and several other PAS politicians speak at a ceramah shortly after the Al Mauna incident, where a cult of Islamic extremists had attacked a military camp, seized ammunition and then proceeded to kill the hostages one by one.

“They claimed it was a sandiwara (shadow play or conspiracy) engineered by the Government to discredit the Islamists. I remember feeling quite sad when the mother of one of those killed asked: ‘If it is a sandiwara, why has my son not come home?’” said Juhaidi.

A more thorough investigation of that tragic episode has been screened on Astro’s Discovery channel and it has helped put the matter to rest.

Drama king

But it does seem that Mat Sabu, like many of his friends who dominate the ceramah circuit, has a tendency to make dramatic claims and statements.

“He once told me that even if he is sick and down with fever, if you give him a microphone, he will recover and does not need to see the doctor. He is the sort of guy – you put a microphone in his hand, put him on a stage and he becomes a different person. But once the curtain comes down, he is back to his normal self,” said blogger Syed Azidi Syed Aziz, also known as Kickdefella.

Mat Sabu has always had a no-holds barred style. At the height of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking, Mat Sabu who has had issues with Anwar dating back to their days in Abim was going around, giving ceramah and talking about “Al Juburi”, which is Arab for the A-word.

The Malays call it mulut tak ada insuran (uninsured mouth, meaning that what is said could be libellous).
Not everybody likes his aggressive style, especially his habit of calling people names. He was deemed so controversial at one stage that he was not invited to speak at ceramah during by-elections.

There is no denying that Mat Sabu has a folksy charm and a certain boyishness about him although he is now 57 and rather overweight. He is a crowd-puller and PAS members flock to listen to him because they are guaranteed of entertainment. He is often the last person to speak so that the crowd will stay on till the end.

“His enemies are frightened when he speaks. At the same time, his style attracts the bullets of Umno,” said Harakahdaily editor-in-chief Zulkifli Sulong.

The Umno assemblyman for Ketereh in Kelantan, Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad, has a cynical but witty take on Mat Sabu.

“I will remember him forever. I became a political secretary to a minister because of him,” he said with a laugh.

Mat Sabu had contested against Tan Sri Annuar Musa in Nilam Puri, Kelantan, in the 1990 general election. It was a big fight with lots of ceramah going on. At one ceramah, the Kelantan-born Annuar had said in jest: “Why do you want to vote for Mat Sabu? He is an outsider. I am a local boy, more educated. I studied in two universities. I am taller and more handsome.”

Mat Sabu rebutted in similar vein at his own ceramah: “Anuar Musa is better educated, taller, more handsome but I am more popular, especially among the women.”

He went on to crush Annuar with a majority of 8,000 votes. Annuar was subsequently appointed a senator and minister and that was how Alwi became his political secretary.

Mat Sabu’s political enemies had been quite willing to forget the khalwat episode where he was apprehended with another woman in a Kota Baru hotel in 1995. After all, he had won a discharge and acquittal after two witnesses contradicted each other on the hotel room number.

But now that he is on top, his detractors are digging out the dirt again. A video titled Skandal Sexs Mat Sabu (sex scandal of Mat Sabu) has been making the rounds in the Ampang area. However, the video was apparently about another Pakatan leader.

PAS MP for Parit Buntar Mujahid Yusof accused the mainstream media of picking on Mat Sabu especially after he became the party No. 2.

“He has always been the sort to provoke, and he is bringing the party to a new audience. But why is it that in the last three months, he is always in the media? The media is manipulating it,” said Mujahid.

It is true the media is taking a more intense look at Mat Sabu following his rise in PAS; that is only natural. When one is up there, one cannot go on acting or talking in the same way as when one was down there.

And especially when one is the No. 2 in the party, everything said and done is scrutinised and analysed. Mat Sabu is learning that it is now harder to get away with outlandish statements. He will be held accountable because the public will read the statements as the party’s stand.

Mat Sabu’s latest trouble may also be connected to the way Pakatan politicians have been chipping away at the system and institutions like the judiciary, the police and security forces, and even the civil service. They have questioned the reputation of bodies like the MACC and the Election Commission. These are institutions which they believe have been unfair to them and which are standing in the way of their quest to control Putrajaya.

They are so used to criticising the police that Mat Sabu may not have realised he had stepped beyond the boundary when talking about Bukit Kepong.

The outcry over his remarks is not purely about politics. It is also because there are very few Malay families who do not have a family member or relative in the police or army. As such, criticism of these bodies is bound to hit sensitive nerves all over the place. There is a limit to criticising the men and women who put their lives on the line for our security and well-being.

But Mat Sabu, controversial firebrand and all, was the party’s choice. Members were disenchanted with the passivity of some of their ulama leaders and they saw in Mat Sabu someone who could push their cause on a more political path. He has given them their money’s worth thus far.

He is such a contrast to the studied style of his president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang although some wish that he was a little more like Hadi.

But Mat Sabu will always be Mat Sabu, and the roller-coaster ride he is taking his party on has just begun.

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